ADVENT - O COME, EMMANUEL
by The Rev’d Philip Johnson
Advent. The coming. The countdown to Christmas… well that is how it is often seen. A calendar window to open every day with the promise (if the parents have bought the right one) of a small square of chocolate behind each window. In church we light the advent candles marking off the Sundays of Advent. There are themes that go with these candles: the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist (the pink candle) and the Virgin Mary. There is however an even more ancient sequence for Advent based on the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven (the pink candle), and hell. You are probably not too surprised that the church focuses on the sequence of the Patriarchs through to Mary in the principal services – most people coming to church on the Sunday before Christmas would not be expecting a sermon on hell! But we forget this ancient sequence at our peril.
The narrative of promise and hope from the Patriarchs to Mary prepares us to celebrate once-again the gift of God’s son to the world: that is why we can sing Emmanuel – God with us. But that is only part of the story.
Advent helps us to prepare for the fulfilment of God’s promise in the advent of the Messiah but it also points us towards a promise, as yet unfulfilled, when Christ will come again. Every Sunday in the Eucharist we say ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’. Advent helps us to prepare for that reality by reflecting on the themes of death and judgement, heaven and hell. Will we be ready to meet our God face-to-face when he comes again? One of the anthems sometimes sung in Advent has the line ‘thou knowest lord the secrets of our hearts’… are we ready for the final judgement by God who knows us better than we know ourselves? These aren’t, perhaps, the most Christmassy thoughts but just as we know that God is with us because of Christmas so advent reminds us that Christ will come again as King and judge of all.
Have a blessed Advent,